Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
ListsAn error has ocurred. Please try again
Saikaku ichidai onna (1952)
A hauntingly told melodrama of how one woman ended up in the life of prostitution in her 50's. Mizoguchi is famous for many films, but especially Life of Oharu, Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff. He uses many long shots throughout the film which have a surprising effect on the viewer. It both draws the viewer into the drama and pushes the viewer away in unexpected ways. One could use this film to explore the male gaze from a number of perspectives, including the viewer, that pronounce judgment at all levels. The Buddhist elements in this film are also explored in intricate ways. It is a film that deserves more than one viewing; but will only be appreciated by those who are interested in exploring our humanity, rather than seeking entertainment.
SPOILERS I have yet to see Sansho, but whereas Ugetsu is mesmerizing in a tragic way, Oharu is unrelenting on the tragic developments in her life. Oharu has no way of escaping the feudal and aristocratic imposed rules of society from her youth to her old age. At every turn, her life outcome is outside of her hands. The patriarchal values of male strength, authoritarianism and honor at all costs thwart any chances of Oharu having control over her life.
The long shots keep the viewer from making the narrative too personal and at the same time indict the viewer for any preconceived notions he/she holds about the life of prostitution. One sees the tragedy of true love unfulfilled and rejected by society as it reverberates through the rest of her life. Her refusal to comply with societal expectations of class and gender place her at odds with all.
At the same time the viewer sees that Oharu truly tries to change herself in order to fit with the society. Unfortunately, the viewer sees as Oharu fails time after time. It can be a depressing film, but at the same time it could be a powerful film to expose the hypocrisy and social structures that empower a male dominated elitist society. A truly remarkable film for its time that continues to expose how little we have advanced as a society.
This is a film I hope to re-watch and explore more in depth the male gaze and Buddhist themes of impermanence, arhats and compassion.
Sanbiki no samurai (1964)
Entertaining Samurai Pic
A wandering ronin stumbles upon a mill building after finding a woman's hair pin. Inside three peasants have kidnapped the magistrate's daughter in order to seek justice on behalf of all the peasants. The cynical samurai schools the peasants on how to handle a kidnapping. The humorous but portentous beginning sets up the characters and action of the film.
It is an entertaining chambara film, but there is lack of depth in terms of character study that set apart the best films. Nevertheless, it is a quality, skilled debut film by Hideo Gosha.
During some of the sequences, the camera makes a well timed dutch tilt to present the action in the film. The action and suspense in the film is well choreographed as the upper hand changes during the first act. The action is restrained and purposeful which makes the fights much more compelling.
In this film we see the loyalty of two of the samurai to the peasants as a virtue despite all the hesitations on their part. Are they only defending the peasants because there are no better options for independent samurai? The third samurai works for the ruthless magistrate. He switches allegiances out of necessity when the magistrate places a price on his head.
Part of the film looks at class warfare as the magistrate hoards all the goods and the peasants starve. The film does not fall into romantic view of the struggle which is what sets it apart from other films. In the end, the peasants are too afraid to take action and risk their lives in the name of justice. They are unwilling to present their demands to the Lord of the magistrate when he visits. When people cannot take their own fate into their own hands, there is not much that can be done for them. The daughter of the magistrate develops empathy for the plight of the peasants, but also remains deeply loyal to her father in their family bond. The magistrate is the only two dimensional character. He is ruthless and ready to betray anyone in his way. In some regards, the number of betrayals by the magistrate in the film detract from the possibilities of greater character development as his own character.
I loved the dust blown by in several sequences that make the locales of combat come across as much more desolate and rugged.
Nevertheless, this is a great film for lovers of samurai films who wish to delve deeper than the typical popular films.
A fascinating conclusion to a legendary character. Like the previous film, this one focuses on one particular event of the real life Musashi: the duel at Ganryu Island. In the previous film Musashi undergoes a transformation at the end where he realizes that there is no benefit in seeking to kill his opponents. He has matured and is no longer interested in instigating duel matches. It begins the section on Musashi interestingly with a match by Zen monks where a young arrogant monk challenges anyone in public.
Throughout the film Musashi is constantly assessing each situation and trying to choose the humble path. In the first film we catch a glimpse through dialogue that Musashi farmed the land and was unhappy, but now that he has lived his dream as a samurai he returns to the farming life in order to protect a defenseless village. Before returning to farming Musashi lived in a city where he considered becoming an employed samurai but instead avoids it and starts to take up wood crafting Mahayana buddhas. He leaves when he was set to duel with Kojiro Sasaki who had been waiting for Musashi to gain in prominence in order to benefit from his victory in the duel.
Musashi postpones the fight for a year and the final scene sequence presents the duel match as the climactic scene. The final scene was masterfully choreographed and a memorable samurai duel on the beach side as the sun rises in the morning. There is not much fighting per se, but the build up of suspense and style is excellent.
This film also relies on the continued obsession of Otsu and Akemi with Musashi and his unreturned love. Musashi is truly concerned with virtue and wants to avoid misleading women when his true love remains the life of a samurai. Musashi is tortured by the last scene with Otsu in the second film where he threw himself over her and she rejected him. He felt that he had committed a rash, dishonorable action, while in truth she was simply conflicted. The third film opens up with a monologue by Kojiro Sasaki where his obsession with fame includes the killing of Musashi provides a chilling introduction into his character. Sasaki becomes the paradigm of unfettered fame at all costs. Otsu who followed him out of confusion, finally decides to leave him and seek out Musashi. Again, the women present themselves as strong characters still at the mercy of savage men.
There is a sense of flawed portrayals of the female characters. While at times they are multi-dimensional characters, at other times it can come across as soap opera type acting and plot wise. In addition, the story of Musashi as the ideal samurai is difficult to accept given our cynical age, but Musashi is a Japanese folk hero that has been influential to Japanese virtue for over 400 years. Mifune does provide depth to the character, but is limited given the goodness that the character represents within a patriotic context.
Nevertheless, the film represents excellent story telling and cinematography that stands the test of time. While the presentation of the ideal samurai will die in the coming years with the birth of the anti-hero by Kurosawa, this is a quintessential trilogy for the historical appreciation of the genre that in a few years would reinvent itself and influence western film making.
While the Musashi Miyamoto trilogy is far from historical accuracy, they provide an entertaining introduction to this Japanese character that transcends time.
Genesis of Mythical Status
The second installment opens up with a duel. Musashi arrives at a sight early at dawn and encounters a stubborn young child. The opening samurai duel sets the stage for artistic, well choreographed fights with a high level of suspense. Musashi is immediately put down by a wandering Zen monk who says that he is still too wild to be considered a true samurai; thus begins the balancing act and spiritual transformation of Musashi.
In this film we see the tragedy of Matahachi in his relationship fleshed out. In addition, the love triangle between Akemi, Otsu and Musashi continues. Musashi wants to make a name for himself and ends up seeking out the master of the Yoshioka clan for a duel. The students of the master continue to try to ambush and kill off Musashi. We meet a new character that will be more fully developed in the third movie: Kojiro Sasaki. Kojiro is a ronin as well seeking out to become the best samurai of the land. He is interested in Musashi's growth as a legend so that he can face him off later and gain an even greater reputation.
The film is shot at 1:33:1 aspect ratio which creates shots with greater depth within the composition. The position and use of the camera is done masterfully. One of the most memorable scenes is when Musashi leads his gang of attackers into the muddy rice fields. It creates great tension and memorable fights. Inagaki is also very skillful in setting up great scenes, like a duel with snow falling and then cutting to another simple scene that takes place after the fight. He teases the audience and leaves it wanting for more.
One of the most surprising aspects of the film is how forward the female characters are portrayed. They are not simple, obedient women, but have strong personalities and own their sexuality. Toshiro Mifune plays the character flawlessly and displays his commanding presence as a skilled swordsman that is later perfected within the great Kurosawa films.
Miyamoto Musashi (1954)
Legendary folk hero come to life in Mifune
An influential picture of a legendary character. The director precedes Akira Kurosawa and provides the template that is expanded upon by the latter film director. I believe that Kurosawa films are essential for any film lover, but if you fall for well done samurai movies, than this is a must see film. The characters, storytelling and camera techniques are incredibly well done for those who appreciate the historical development of films. This film came out at the same time as Seven Samurai and won the Academy Award for best foreign film. Musashi is a Japanese seventeenth century folk hero who has been depicted in numerous art forms throughout Japanese history.
Toshiro takes on the role with complete mastery. It begins with him up on a tree idolizing the marching warriors through his small village. He goes off to war to make a name for himself. His childhood friend decides to follow along despite his engagement to Otsu. In war they encounter defeat and escape to improve. They meet a mother and daughter out in the country who help them heal. Ultimately, Musashi separates from his friend and returns to his town where he becomes a fugitive.
As part of a trilogy, this film sets up the stage for the next two, but it also stands very much on its own. Musashi begins as an impetuous young man and the film ends when he has matured. One drawback is that we only get glimpses into the character over long periods of time. Musashi comes off as an intense character, obsessed with fame, even over the company of women. His treatment of women appears to be an honorable characteristic or it could be a reality for someone who has not properly developed certain social skills. There is a certain sympathy that the viewer develops with regard to such a character where fame at all costs stunts the quintessential human drive for companionship and friendship. He becomes a loner that no one can access. The character development from a naive beginning with indiscriminate fighting to a mature more restrained character is engaging. In this film you also have the love triangle that will continue through the subsequent films.
The director Inagaki captures incredibly well the local country side scenery full of beautiful mountains. The most memorable scene is when Musashi is hung from a tree by the Zen monk as a way of teaching a lesson. The Zen monk is a memorable character, but I wished that more could have been developed with the Japanese Zen background context. Ultimately, Musashi emerges as a confident man ready to accomplish his goal of becoming a samurai with a better structured agenda. On the side, the viewer is left to contemplate the fates of Otsu, and Musashi's friend Matahachi. A great film that looks into the character side of Musashi whereas the next two installments will make great use of traditional samurai duels.
The Brothers Rico (1957)
An entertaining story on the pawn players of a gang syndicate
An entertaining film noir as the genre was nearing its end. Here we had a look at the gangster-mob life from a different perspective. Richard Conte plays Eddie Rico who worked for his uncle Kubik. The film begins with an ominous phone call as Eddie is told he needs to take in a mob member who is hiding from the justice. Eddie complies although he wishes to not get involved. He is currently trying to adopt a child with his wife.
Eddie is called out by Kubik to find their missing brother Johnny. When Eddie runs into his brothers Gino and Johnny, he tells them to trust the mob and follow their instructions. Eddie believes that fidelity is still a virtue among the mob bosses. He is committed to the cause and will do anything to make sure his brothers continue to survive. As a noir, it moves from Florida to New York to Phoenix and California, becoming one of the few national noirs (there is none I can think of right now).
The film is shot in a minimalist fashion. Most of the sound is diegetic based on the scenes on screen. On several occasions, melodramatic music plays which actually tones down the suspense, but clearly it is a tool used by the director to deprive the viewer of expected non-diegetic music. Richard Conte and his wife are very playful in the early scenes and risqué for the period as they engage playfully in the bathroom. As a mob movie with an Italian background, it continues the early gangster movies but takes the angle of the people down the line who are at the mercy of those at the top.
The Brothers Rico is worthwhile as an entertaining movie if you enjoy film-noir and tracing the developments of gangster films.
City of Fear (1959)
The final days of Film Noir
An interesting late film noir based in L.A. It has a bit of the city "documentary" type filming. It starts out with an ambulance car racing down the street. We find out one of them is bleeding and they both escaped from jail. Vince, the driver, stole a can of what he thinks is heroine on his way out of jail. He feels like he can sell the drug and live off the money with his girlfriend.
The film also focuses on the police investigation which cuts into the development time of any of the characters, thus they all remain underdeveloped. The escaped criminal Vince does come of as menacing and we see him descend fast from his jail break "high." The audience finds out quickly that the canister is a radioactive powder form of Cobalt 60, while Vince thinks its full of highly price worthy drugs. The film, from Vince's perspective shows him trying to set up a sale of the drug, while from the police perspective, we see them trying to prevent a city wide panic.
There were good sequences and shots, like when Vince is trying to figure things out at night along a busy road and we see cuts of the cars passing by, Vince sweating and Vince holding on to the canister. But there is not enough to lift up the film from mediocrity. Interestingly, the musical score is conducted by the prolific Jerry Goldsmith. As far as noir films, it includes an interesting depiction of paranoia, egotism, violent consequences and illusions of grandeur. It is an inferior picture of Cold War, radioactive poisoning paranoia, but it will be an interesting film for fans of film noir movies who want to see the last throes of a great psychological cinematic movement.
Mildred Pierce (1945)
One of the Best Films with Strong Female Leads
One of the best mystery-psychological melodrama features with strong female characters. It is now considered a film noir although it is a mix of the traditional melodrama. It has great lines right from the beginning as the protagonist considers jumping into the ocean and a police officer walks up: "Just cause you feel like bumping yourself off, I'd end up with pneumonia and that ain't fair." As a film noir, this one takes place in the upscale locations of Santa Monica, west of Los Angeles, away from the city.
SPOILERS From the opening credits viewers are prepared for things to come. The opening credits have the tidal waves erasing the credits; already hinting at something deeper about the philosophy of the film. Just as the waves erase the credits on the sand, the viewer is reminded of the brief time we spend on this world. Is it a hint about our legacies in this world, that they will be eventually drawn into the ocean of nothingness. Will our accomplishments count for anything?
The film begins in media res on a dark night at a beach house where gun shots ring out and a man falls speaking the name "Mildred" for the last time. Is the man revealing a clue about the plot? The murder occurs in front of a mirror where we see bullet cracks left.
Next we get a night time crane shot of a pier area shops and a woman walking past them to the edge of the pier. After Mildred's failed attempt to kill herself; even suicide is impossible in this noir gem. The characters must face the consequences of their actions; no one is off the hook.
The film shows us a broken world where death and sex are inextricably intertwined. It is a world where you have the wide open spaces not found in L.A., but the characters are just as limited in their movements and opportunities.
It is also a world where we have strong women taking control of their lives. Unfortunately, it does not bode well for the mother or the daughter. When Mildred first splits from her husband, Wally pushes himself in. Mildred responds with two fiery come-back lines: "You don't by any chance hear opportunity knocking?", "Wally, you should be kept on a leash." Mildred will have to transcend her previous homemaking position to the sole matriarchal leader of the family.
Unlike other Film Noir films, this one is not about romantic love. It is about a single mother struggling to get ahead. As the argument begins with the first husband, cheating is on the plate, but so is the eldest daughter Veda's (Vee-dah) expensive tastes and insatiable desire for more material goods. The love for the daughter drives the plot of the film.
The role of women; begins with the submissive mother taking charge and overcoming the social restrictions of the period. We find a single mother overwhelmed by debt who works hard and succeeds in the restaurant business. Mildred is conscientious and adept at spending her money, but no one else around her is. Her daughter Veda and second lover/husband Monte Baragon lead to her demise. Mildred even marries Monte, but she does so against her better judgment in order to lure Veda back to live with her. Monte belongs to a wealthy socialite family, but he is just an unproductive sponge leaching out of the remaining funds hoarded by his past ancestors; he contributes nothing.
From the beginning Veda is portrayed as an egotistical, self- concerned daughter. At first, she is likable in the sense that one forgives her for her naive view of the world and self-pretentious attitude as a phase in youth. But quickly, we realize it is not a phase, something really wrong has happened to her where fantasy and reality are no longer distinguishable. Mildred loves her unconditionally, but the mother's love is not returned in the same way: "I love you mother; I really do, but let's not be sticky about it." Mildred tries to compensate for the distance between them by providing Veda expensive gifts of clothes and piano lessons. The film presents the problem of consumerism and a cynical view of love between mother and daughter. This film shocks the audience by the portrayal of such an indifferent and callous daughter; it threatens the family values by the disintegration of the husband-wife relationship and more disturbingly, the mother-daughter relationship. The daughter seeks endless satisfaction in the newest fashions and becomes a status- seeker. Veda constantly puts down her mother for her humble origins, but Veda refuses to see herself as descending from her mother. Veda lives in a world where she sees herself as an orphan, as a woman born into the wrong family; she sees herself destined for high class life without ever working for a dime.
Mildred Pierce is a great psychological drama and film noir that stands the test of time. It provides a fascinating window into the past and a mirror to flaws that persist in the human condition.
Youth lost too soon
After Au hasard Balthazar, Bresson takes on the life a young girl in the country side. She grows up too fast with a string of events in her life and struggles internally to make sense of it all. For some, the number of events she encounters seem to lack the subtlety of his previous efforts, but it is still a genius of minimalist film making.
The film begins by showing us a boy setting up traps to catch birds and we see a bird caught in one of the traps as it tries to set itself free. Is Bresson telling us something about the main character, is she a bird trapped unable to taste freedom?
Mouchette is a young girl, her mother is dying on the bed, her father and brother deal in illegal distribution of alcoholic beverages and there is a baby brother that needs to be cared for. Mouchette ends up being the caretaker of her mother and baby brother when she is home. Before she dies, the mother tells Mouchette to avoid lazy and drunk men.
At school, Mouchette shows up unkempt and is socially outcast without friends. She is distracted during school and is ridiculed by the teacher. Mouchette seems to be preoccupied with her home conditions that prevent her from learning and instead of compassion is further humiliated by her teacher. After school Mouchette throws dirt at the other school girls. We don't see the faces of the school girls until the final throw. It is an awkward scene where we wonder about Mouchette's moral character. She remains an ambivalent character, but her conditions make us feel a connection to her. She has been unable to emotionally connect with anyone.
Her father slaps her at the only time she seemed to be happy: flirting in the carnival bumper cars. Her father simply takes his drinks without an inkling of emotion (typical of Bresson). After school, she loses her way (or takes shelter) in the woods during a storm. She witnesses the arguments between two men and we wonder whether one of them was killed. The one that befriends her, tries to convince her to be his alibi. He ends up raping Mouchette although the scene makes it seem like she embraces the violent act as a final act of desperation when she seems to embrace the man.
The next day her mother dies and as she walks to get milk for the family she encounters three women who provide part compassion and part humiliation to Mouchette. The first woman gives her coffee and bread, but ends up calling her a slut. The second woman is obsessed with death and gives Mouchette a dress and cover for her mother. The third woman is the wife of the man thought to be dead. She tries to find out what happened to Mouchette, but the girl responds that the other man is her lover. Mouchette ends up tearing her new dress by a lake or river and starts rolling down the hill with the dress several times. The last time she rolls down the hill she falls into the water and the movie ends.
We do not know whether she lived or died, but the scene leaves the viewer rather uneasy. Part of the divisiveness of viewers on the film is that it is such a bleak story with no redeeming features. It is precisely for those reasons that it is a powerful film whether one loves or hates it. Mouchette is a simple film, but disquieting and disruptive to all things we hold dear.